In 1925, composer and pianist George Gershwin played foxtrot improvisations for piano students at Chautauqua’s School of Music. Nearly 100 years later, Sara Davis Buechner is bringing those improv stylings back.
“I wanted to put something on the program that made this not only a recital, but a Chautauqua recital,” Buechner said. “I have come to learn over the years that those are two very different things.”
Buechner, pianist and piano professor at Temple University, will give a recital at 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 15, on CHQ Assembly’s Virtual Porch. On the program is Mozart’s “Dürnitz” in D major, KV 284, Johannes Brahms’ “Two Rhapsodies,” Op. 79, and three Gershwin-inspired foxtrots Buechner arranged herself.
The foxtrot selections include “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “He Loves and She Loves Me” and “Fidgety Feet.”
“These pieces are so much fun and could put anyone in a better mood,” she said. “I wanted to end with these so the audience can leave my performance on a positive note and with some new Chautauqua history under their belts. I think Gershwin would have played these the same way — at least I hope that’s the case.”
You’re trying to invest in this world some beauty and truth and meaning,” Buechner said. “It sounds very noble and like a higher calling, but that’s what I think of it. To have that stripped away means I have to look in the mirror and ask what I am doing with my life and if what I see is really the best I can do.”
In addition to extensive touring in South America and Europe, Buechner has performed in every state and province of North America as a chamber musician and soloist for some of the top orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony. She also frequently visits Japan to perform for the New Japan Philharmonic. In June 2019, Buechner traveled there for one of her most ambitious projects yet: performing all of Mozart’s 21 piano concertos with the Tokyo Sinfonia over the course of eight concerts, a feat never attempted by one musician before.
“It feels like that music is forever in my fingers,” Buechner said.
For her Chautauqua performance, Buechner narrowed it down to one: Mozart’s “Dürnitz,” a 1775 three-movement piano sonata, the last of the sonatas Mozart published in Munich. Buechner said the sonata is so infused with delicacy and grace, that the Brahms’ “thunderous growling” is an abrupt change of pace.
“It’s so easy for me to play Brahms at the moment,” she said. “It’s psychologically satisfying to beat up the piano. I think of it as a workout session. While there are beautiful moments, there is also a lot of angst and rage.”
Brahms is “far from the only one with some rage to release,” Buechner said. Although she feels fortunate to be able to perform, Buechner said she has found her role as a mentor to be more important in the “digital transition.”
“I suddenly saw that being someone my students can look up to is what I needed to focus my energy toward,” she said. “They have expressed anger and sadness and feelings of defeat. I want to be there for them.”
Buechner has, silently, been sharing those emotions with her students. She feels they need to see her remain “calm and helpful,” but some days, she’s been “freaking out” herself.
“It’s a bit of an act and I am struggling to find my place in it,” she said.
It’s not an “ego thing,” she said. Music? That’s her life’s work. As much as Buechner considers her Chautauqua performance to be a step toward achieving a “sense of normalcy,” she sees it as a step toward finding her “sense of self.”
“You’re trying to invest in this world some beauty and truth and meaning,” Buechner said. “It sounds very noble and like a higher calling, but that’s what I think of it. To have that stripped away means I have to look in the mirror and ask what I am doing with my life and if what I see is really the best I can do.”